Moments transcends everything in sport and nothing defines that more than football especially the good ones. Welcome to 'Throwback Thursday' where we take a look at a moment in time, and this week, we look at the 1991/92 FA Cup and a goal that Wrexham fans will remember until the end of days.
It’s the 4th of January 1992 and the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham is buzzing with anticipation as time ticks on in the FA Cup third round. The scoreboard, in the 13,000 plus stadium, reads 1-1 and the clock has just struck the 83rd minute but the four thousand odd away supporters look scared. Some even look like they’ve bitten their fingers off as Wrexham get the ball back and look to potentially create a chance.
The Racecourse Ground has had the time of their lives, for the most part, tonight but with six minutes left on the clock, almost anything can happen. That is the magic of the FA Cup after all with it the one trophy in England where absolutely anything can happen. And for Wrexham, scoring the next goal would be historic especially considering the fact that they’re a fourth divison side.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are the First Division giants from London facing up against a lowly team from Wrexham in north Wales, in the world’s oldest international football stadium. If there was ever a place to produce a moment of history, one that will be remembered eons after the players retired and disappeared from the world of football, this ground was it. And right now, the ball was flying towards Wrexham’s Gordon Davies with the Arsenal defenders in disarray.
They had been all over the place for the last five odd minutes or so but as the ball flew over Davies’ shoulder, the midfielder had a clear shot on goal. Of course, as shots on goals go, it would have been a speculative effort from outside the box but Davies never shied from things like that. That isn’t to say that he didn’t have options with, top scorer, Steve Watkin running alongside him on his left.
The crowd waits as Davies ponders his options, as the ball bounces into the area, as the commentator goes “six minutes left” and the noise levels in the stadium has suddenly shot up a few decibels. They know something is about to happen. Time has now stopped but before we dive into the climax and reach the end, let’s roll it back and figure out how we got here in the first place. Because as luck would have it, nobody on this planet ever expected Brian Flynn’s Wrexham to ever be in this position.
They were after all the side who only survived finishing bottom of the entire Football League in the 1990/91 season thanks to a restructuring of the entire pyramid. In normal circumstances, it would have meant that Wrexham would have been relegated out of the Football League and into the Football Conference, aka the National League. But changes to the football pyramid by the Football League and their plans to expand it, saved the Robins their pride and thus a demotion although their season wasn’t great.
The club were in a poor financial state after issues from the previous seasons although there was an ambitious redevelopment project in place. It was one that hurt many fans as Wrexham secretary David Rhodes laid out a new 5,000 all-seater stadium, while its Racecourse Ground would be converted into a supermarket. That combined with relegation and the fact that the club had already been knocked out of the League Cup going into this game, added to their problems.
But despite their poor performances in the league, the FA Cup proved to be the club’s saving grace as they cruised through the First Round Proper with a 5-2 win over Winsford United. The Second Round Proper proved to be slightly harder but eventually, Wrexham managed to sneak past Telford United with a 1-0 win and set-up the almighty clash against Arsenal. Now, this was never going to be an easy battle but the fact that the Gunners were the reigning First Division Champions made it even harder.
To make things even worse, George Graham’s side had won the First Division title by losing just one of their 38 games in the league with them finishing six points ahead of Liverpool. Graham was aiming for a double, which would have made them the only team in English football to have won it twice, but a 3-1 loss to Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final ended that dream.
But despite that, Arsenal walked into 1991/92 confident and thriving although that wouldn’t last long because by October the Gunners were knocked out of the League Cup by Coventry City. Their form in the league wasn’t one to marvel at either with the club losing seven games going into the FA Cup clash against Wrexham in the Third Round. Now, these two sides did have a history with the Robins hosting the Gunners once in the past, in the 1977/78 FA Cup.
Although on that occasion, the Welsh side were forced to contend with defeat. But even defeat wasn’t made easy as Arsenal walked away from the Racecourse Ground with a 3-2 win and while they would go all the way to the final, Ipswich Town beat them by a 1-0 margin. Not exactly the ending that many Arsenal fans were hoping and with their current season not going well, lifting the FA Cup would change all that.
That meant complacency with fans not the least bit concerned about the fact that Wrexham could cause problems despite their problems. After all, going into the game, the Welsh side had lost just two of their last seventeen home games and that did buoy a few supporters but not many. Yet, the Robins boss Bryan Flynn had his sights set high as he admitted "On paper, they should murder us, but the game isn't being played on paper,” but that wouldn’t last long as Arsenal dominated the opening half of the game.
They won a corner in the early minutes and nearly scored from it with Alan Smith’s header nicked off the line by a Wrexham defender. After that, the floodgates opened and the Gunners flew forward wave after wave. Nigel Winterburn created another chance after he found Paul Merson with the winger floating a cross into the box. While it was cleared, the ball reached Jimmy Carter near the penalty spot but his effort flew just wide of the far post.
Things for Wrexham didn’t look good at one end but offensively, the hosts were creating chances although they were few and far in between the Arsenal ones. But despite that, Gareth Owen nearly scored the opener for the Robins after a marvellous first touch from a flick on but he whistled his effort just wide off the post and that would cost them. Because two minutes before half-time, Arsenal had themselves the opening goal.
It came after Paul Merson produced a wonderful bit of skill to beat his marker down the left and then squared the ball towards the middle. There waiting was poacher supreme Alan Smith and the Arsenal forward, top scorer with 27 goals last season, made no mistake as he tucked it home in front of the away fans. That did absolutely nothing for Wrexham’s confidence and many believed that it put the game beyond the Robins.
It meant that for most of the four thousand away fans, the game was a forgone conclusion despite a half of football left and that changed things. Because Arsenal walked out of the break the worse side with them squabbling and complaining amongst themselves despite keeping the ball. But they never really threatened the hosts’ back-line with the Robins doing most of the work although long-ball tactics seemed to work for Arsenal.
It saw Nigel Winterburn clatter the cross-bar with a cross/shot and Kevin Campbell had an excellent one v one chance against Vince O'Keefe saved but beyond that, the away side seemed blocked. That worked for Wrexham because they were creating away. Mickey Thomas was at the heart of it all as he found Gordon Davies down the right and while he did have a far-post option waiting, he opted for the cut-back towards the edge of the box.
It fell kindly for Andy Thackeray but his effort was saved by an acrobatic David Seaman. The Arsenal goalkeeper was one of the few who seemed on point in the second half as the referee awarded Wrexham a free-kick after David O’Leary seemingly pushed Davies. 25 yards out and Mickey Thomas stepped up, faked to take it quickly, and caused disarray within the Arsenal ranks.
They didn’t like that but Thomas eventually set it up and with eight minutes left, a goal here would send the Racecourse Ground rocking to its very core. That’s exactly what Thomas did with the free smashed into the top corner past a hapless David Seaman. Replays show that the Arsenal keeper managed to get a finger on the ball but it wasn’t enough and that sent the stadium wild.
Here they were, a side that nearly got relegated last season and somehow they were sitting level against George Graham’s legendary Arsenal side. That injected confidence into Bryan Flynn’s side because they sensed blood and pounced on the Gunners. Wave after wave until, two minutes later and a long ball was played towards Davies. The noise levels increase decibel by decibel as the ball flies over the midfielder’s shoulder and bounces just outside the area.
The Arsenal defense is all over the place, and if he wanted, Davies could have had a volleyed effort from outside the “d” threaten David Seaman. But with top scorer Steve Watkins waiting and the option for the far post cross available, anything but a pass would have been selfish especially with the noise levels continuing to rise inside the Racecourse Ground. And if Davies had proved one thing all night, it was that he was anything but selfish.
Welcome to a moment in history…
PS: click here for the full(ish) match highlights.